The Queen In The Mound (The Norsewomen)

Written by Johanna Wittenberg
Review by Jinny Webber

A Norsewoman in the 9th century AD, Ragnhild is captain of the Raider Bride. She’s married to the Irish lord and one-time king Murchad, whom she’d intended to destroy but now loves. Ragnhild has the strength and authority of a man, and is developing the necessary strategy. Murchad is a Christian, but the other characters are Viking pagans, sacrificing beasts to their gods and, in some cases, in touch with the spirit world. A person of power, a sorcerer or the queen Åsa, can inhabit their totem animal when necessary. The queen in the mound is a supernatural being, and a threatening one. Other threats include two outlaws and Ragnhild’s brother, who has claimed her inheritance. These involve skirmishes, battles, wounds, and death during this brutal era. Not all Norse folk are raiders, however, and prosperous farmers prefer peace. Ragnhild herself reflects on a misbegotten war: “All the bloodshed could have been avoided.”

The fourth book in Wittenberg’s series, The Queen in the Mound makes readers wish to have read the first three. However, it’s not difficult to pick up the story or to admire the strong female characters. Whether Norsewomen could become shield-maidens, captain raiding ships, lead troops, and engage in rivalries and warfare, isn’t documented, but archeological discoveries of the graves of powerful women show that some did attain status. Wittenberg’s dramatic flair captures the reader, from the sea battle which opens the novel to the magical elements and skaldic tales woven into the narrative. There’s a golden Irish necklace with mystical powers, a witch-blinded wolf that nurtures a human (two humans, actually), and of course, the frightening queen in the mound.